How to Create a Ghostbusters Ghost Effect in Photoshop and Lightroom

Well, all the ghosts I photographed are now busted.  You can see their finished pictures here, here, here, and here.  So all that is left is to show you how I did it.  This will be an intermediate-level tutorial.  Anything I don’t spell out specifically – like how to cut someone out from a background – can easily be found in written or video form online.  However, if you are still struggling with something after you do a search, don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comment section below.

A special thanks to Film Riot for giving me the idea to do this when I watched this video.

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Making a Photo Look Old

Most of the work I do with photos involves enhancing the natural appearance of the image.  This is stuff like cropping, adjusting color, removing blemishes, changing eye color, and the like.

In this case I got to make more of a dramatic effect.  A group of friends had gathered for a party and we wanted to get the birthday girl a memento so we all posed for an old timey old west photo.  As long as we bought copies of the official print we were allowed to snap as many extra digital images we wanted.  This gave me the perfect opportunity to try my hand at old-i-fying an image.

Here is what I did to get from start to finish:
1.  Crop the image so most of the “cowboys” couldn’t be seen wearing running shoes.
2.  Sharpen the image and remove some motion blur.  Some folks were moving and some were more out of focus than Melanie and I.
3.  Add in wood walls on the two sides of the image.  This set is not meant to accommodate so many people so you could see the outdoors scene and the pirate ship scene as well.  Obviously these things needed to be covered up.  I should have darkened the wall with a gradient from the back corner.  That would have more firmly placed it in the photo.
4.  Add a white border to the image.
5.  Darken the edge of the image to simulate wear.
6.  Use the noise filter.
7.  Adjust the hue and saturation to remove the original color and add in the sepia-ish/old picture tone.
8.  Adjust the brightness of the image selectively to simulate vignetting and an uneven exposure.
9.  Simulate scratches with a fine white brush (saw this tip online and it really helps sell the effect).
10.  Add more noise to the image and selectively remove it with the magic wand.  This was another tip I saw online.  It is amazing how effectively it simulates the deterioration of an old print.  If had thought of it at the time, I would have selectively applied this layer too.  That way I could have left the effect more strong so that parts of the image would have actually appeared to have flaked off rather than just faded.
11.  Add a tinted grain via that filter.  I probably should have also added Gaussian blur to the grain  to make it a little larger and smoother but didn’t think of that at the time.
12.  Apply a Gaussian blur to the edge of the image so that it softly transitions into the white border.

Making a Photo Look Painted or Hand Drawn

Melanie and I had a wonderful weekend with some friends in St. Augustine.  Part of our time was spent on a costumed scavenger hunt.  After about three minutes of self consciousness, folks eased into their roles and all remarked at the conclusion that the costumes had really enhanced the experience.  Tourists had a blast seeing and photographing groups of decorated people racing around them.  The racers became mini celebrities and none were more famous than our own St. Augustine with his long curly red locks.  He and his wife are pictured below.

While I was reviewing photos from the event, it struck me that the painted background behind these two could be reasonably mimicked in Photoshop with the application of a few filters.  If I worked it right the people and the background would appear to be one painted image.  So I fooled around with the sharpness and color balance of the image then duplicated that corrected layer and applied various filters from the Sketch and Artistic folders.  Then I played around with the opacity of each layer and the way in which each interacted with the one beneath it.  It involved a lot of futzing and fooling around but eventually I came up with something that I think is quite pleasing.  Does it really look like a painting?  No, but it achieves the overall goal of unifying the image and making it look handmade.

The advantage to an image like this is the punchy contrasty color.  The downside is that if it isn’t printed fairly large, the handmade quality is lost and it just looks like a photo.  I’d love to see this image printed at 8″x10″ on canvas to see how effective it is.

Original Image
Cropped, Sharpened, Color Adjustment, Artistic and Sketch Filters Applied
Before Detail
After Detail

Point n’ Shoot Portraits

Hi gang,

On the suggestion of a good friend, we decided to check out Washington Oaks State Park.  I’ll have a post with pictures of that excursion sometime soon.

Only those that have known me a long time are aware that I used to really like photography.  When everything shifted over to digital, I wasn’t willing to drop the cash to make the switch and those skills went dormant.  I’ve had an itch to get back into it lately and the light was really nice at the beach so I decided to do what I could with our little point and shoot camera.

It was fun, but I miss the control that an SLR provides.  The pocket-sized convenience of a point and shoot can’t be beat though.

Melanie was positioned facing the light.  I did some images in direct sun and then some using my shadow to soften it.  No fill light, diffusers or reflectors.  The focal length was whatever allowed me to frame the image the way I wanted it.  Hey, I was standing on a bunch of rocks so give me a break.  🙂

I’m pretty happy with them – especially with such a difficult subject.  Melanie hates having her picture taken so I had to work very very quickly before she got crabby.  I can’t blame her though.  Her mom was a pro for many years and would use Melanie as a test subject frequently.  That would wear anyone out.

I converted everything over to black and white and tinted each image in Photoshop.  I usually prefer black and white for portraits but think that the faux sepia and selenium toning warms most images in a pleasing way.  I just wish that I had noticed how uniformly black her sunglasses were in some of the pictures.  If I had, I would have tried popping the flash for a little catchlight.  It might have helped give her dark hair a little more definition too.

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Other Kinds of (Better) Photoshoppery

Ah, dear readers.  We meet once again on the dance floor where I promptly apologize for my lack of updates and then attempt to engage you with my wild flailing.  You might hear me mutter something about a vacation to see family or making a concerted effort to find employment, but we both know that the internet cares not for these.  They want updates and they want them issuing forth like water from a spigot with the valve snapped off.  I may not get back to my regular schedule for a little while but hopefully more frequently than the past week or two.

A few posts ago, I talked about Photoshop and how it can be used to correct and improve photos.  Today’s post flips the coin and we see Photoshop as a tool for less serious endeavors or perhaps more serious manipulations.

As long as there have been photos, people have been fiddling with them.  Ansel Adams did a lot of refinement to his raw images while he was in the darkroom.  There is the famous case of the cut-n-paste photo used against Lee Harvey Oswald.  These are obviously pre-digital manipulations.  This type of thing has been going on a long time.

Once Photoshop hit the scene, the time consuming, delicate and somewhat messy process of manually editing photos became much more approachable.  No funny smelling chemicals.  You didn’t even have to work under a red light!  The program was expensive and not incredibly intuitive to use, limiting it to more serious and business-related endeavors.  Next up, the speed of the average joe’s internet connection begins to increase.  Netscape is released.  The web becomes a visual place. Pirated copies of Photoshop are used to create a growing tide of silly images.  More people understand the language of Photoshop.  Design students begin learning the program in classes (and are able to legally purchase student versions with Mom and Dad’s money).   Free programs like Gimp are released.  Somewhere along this path there is an explosion of digital fakery for serious and silly purposes.  This article on Posterwire provides a nice collection of example links.

I am not above these type of shenanigans myself.

If you have the perfect idea for a hilarious pants-wetting photo of your own but don’t want to do the dirty work yourself, feel free to contact me for a quote (See that handy Contact link in the top right-hand corner of the page?).  R and X-rated concepts need not apply.  Please do not send any images with your initial request.


I’ve been using Photoshop since the olden days.  I think I started with version 1.0, but it could have been 2.0.  I know it was before layers were introduced.  I had seen it used for basic color correction, selection, cropping, etc. for a while and started using it for these reasons.  I never had any formal training with the program.

The aha moment is still crystal clear to me.  I could show you the exact spot in Smith Hall that it happened.  A studio mate had designed some sort of hammock and he wanted images of it in use.  The problem was that he couldn’t get some of the materials he needed to build the model with both the correct visual and structural properties so he had substituted some big fat rope for one part.  On his presentation board he had – you are never going to believe this – painted out the rope.  What?!  Impossible?!  How did you do that?!

He then proceeded to show me the magic of the clone tool.  I know, this is small potatoes today, but at the time it was mind expanding.  This program wasn’t just for cleaning up pictures.  It could be used for photo manipulation and image creation.  I would argue that today it is used more for the latter than the former.

I still use the program regularly.  If you’ve looked at any of the digital artwork I’ve posted at this site, it has all been done in Photoshop.  I regularly fool around with photos too.  Sometimes it is for a laugh and sometimes it is for work.  If you are interested having me do something like this for you, email me and I’ll happily give you a quote.  Please contact me before you send any images.  I don’t need to get mail bombed with hundreds of hi-res images.  🙂

Below is an example of an image I modified for a client.  As is often the case with children’s photography, these little wiggle worms couldn’t all be smiling in one picture.  The main objective was to combine the smiling head from one picture with the other two smiling heads from another picture.  I ended up making six modifications.  Can you spot them all?  Answers will be shown below the modified image so don’t read down there if you want to guess first.


1.  Color correction – remove green cast noticeable in hair and skin mostly

2.  New head for right kid

3.  Removed leaf on blanket

4.  Removed owie from right kid’s leg

5.  Removed two big leaves from lawn

6.  Lightened shadows on left kid’s face